Interview: description of two African shovel-snout snakes from Angola

The small number of collected samples, coupled with the animals’ curious skull structure and anomalous ecology, has puzzled scientists for decades.

Recently, our journal ZooKeys published a paper describing two new species of African Shovel-snout snakes: Prosymna confusa, endemic to dry habitats in southwestern Angola, and P. lisima, associated with the Kalahari sands.

We interviewed the authors of the study to find out how they made this discovery and what it means for biodiversity. Werner Conradie (South Africa), the leader of the project, collected most of the specimens and did all the morphological examinations and taxonomy work. Chad Keates (South Africa) conducted the molecular analysis, Javier Lobon-Roviara (Spain) did the CT-scanning skull reconstruction, and Ninda Baptista (Angola) performed fieldwork.

Interview with Werner Conradie, Chad Keates, Ninda L. Baptista, and Javier Lobón-Rovira

Why has the taxonomy of African Shovel-snout snakes been so complicated?

While widespread, the group is infrequently encountered, resulting in a relatively low number of samples being collected through time. This, coupled with the animals’ curious skull structure and anomalous ecology, has puzzled scientists for decades. While we finally seem to have a grip on the higher-level taxonomy (their relatedness to other snakes), their relations among each other remain incomplete. One thing is for sure, the next few years will likely result in the discovery and description of many more.

Live P. confusa. Photo by Bill Branch

Please walk us through your research process.

Similar to solving a puzzle, the process starts off by acquiring the pieces. The pieces come in the form of samples, collected by us and by scientists, accessioned in museums all over the world. Once all the pieces are in one place, it becomes our job to piece them all together and build a picture of the taxonomy of the group. We start in the corners, ironing out our hypotheses. Once we have the outline, a theory of the species composition of the group, we get to work building the puzzle using evidence from multiple different species concepts.

We use genetics, morphology, ecology, and skull osteology and through fitting these concepts together we start to see our species and the boundaries between them. Large chunks of the puzzle begin to take shape, revealing our picture with ever-increasing clarity. As we find, orientate, and fit the last pieces of our puzzle through the creation and completion of the manuscript, we finish the puzzle and in doing so provide you with the complete picture: the updated taxonomy of Angolan shovel-snout snakes.

When did you realize you were dealing with new-to-science species?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but the idea grew from the moment Werner Conradie picked up the first snake whilst on the first expedition with the Okavango Wilderness Project, back in 2016. Funded by National Geographic and managed by the Wild Bird Trust, this paper would not be possible without them, because without the transport and logistical support, most of our dataset would never have been found.

What makes these new species unique?

With the aid of modern nano computerised tomography scanning technology, we observed that one of the new species has a well-developed postorbital bone. We still don’t know the purpose of this postorbital bone and why it is absent in the others. We believe it might serve as additional muscle attachment points that aids them on feeding on different kinds of lizard eggs than the others.

Kalahari Shovel-snout snake (Prosymna lisima) from southeastern Angola. Photo by Chad Keates

This is also the first new species of Shovel-snouted snake described in nearly 30 years.

In the late 1980’s Zimbabwean herpetologist, Donald Broadley noted that eastern populations of the Angolan Shovel-snouted snake may be a different species. It took nearly 50 years before more material was collected and with the aid of modern technology, like genetic analysis and CT-scanning, we could show he was correct and described it as a new species.  

What can you tell us about their appearance and behavior?

The Shovel-snouted snakes are unique snakes with a beak-like snout that allow them to dig into sandier soils. Thus most of the time they are below the surface and only come out after heavy rains. They also possess unique backward pointed lancet-shaped teeth that they use for cutting open lizard eggs. These snakes specialize in feeding mostly on soft-shell lizard eggs. They find a freshly laid clutch of eggs and one by one, they swallow them whole. They cut them laterally so that the yolk can be released.

Kalahari Shovel-snout snake (Prosymna lisima) from southeastern Angola. Photo by Chad Keates

Do they interact with people?

These snakes may be encountered by people tending to their lands or crossing the road, but, for the most part, they are incredibly secretive. Because of their ability to burrow in soft soils, these animals are infrequently encountered, only forced to the surface during heavy rain and by the urge to breed and to feed. If encountered, however, these snakes pose absolutely no harm, as they possess no venom. When threatened, these animals may wind themselves into a tight coil to protect their heads.

Kalahari Shovel-snout snake (Prosymna lisima) from southeastern Angola. Photo by Chad Keates

What is the ecological role of these snakes?

Much like most small vertebrates, these animals form an important component of the food web. They consume lizard eggs, exerting a regulatory force on newborn lizards, and serve as food for larger snakes, rodents, and birds. Animals like these form the bedrock of any healthy ecosystem as they contribute to energy exchanges and the flow of nutrients down and up and down again.

Bonus question: how did you get involved in herpetology?

Everyone in the group has a soft spot for reptiles and amphibians’. Irrespective of our contrasting upbringing and our nation of origin, we all came to herpetology independently. While it is hard to unpack the moment that we all fell in love with these weird and wonderful creatures, one thing is for sure, it’s a lifetime commitment.

About the Authors

Werner Conradie holds a Masters in Environmental Science (M. Env. Sc.) and has 17 years of experience with southern African herpetofauna, with his main research interests focusing on the taxonomy, conservation, and ecology of amphibians and reptiles. Werner has published numerous principal and collaborative scientific papers, and has served on a number of conservation and scientific panels, including the Southern African Reptile and Amphibian Relisting Committees. He has undertaken research expeditions to many African countries including Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Werner is currently the Curator of Herpetology at the Port Elizabeth Museum (Bayworld), South Africa.

Chad Keates is a post-doctoral fellow at the African herpetology lab at Port Elizabeth museum (Nelson Mandela University, based in the SAIAB Genetics Platform). Having recently completed his PhD in Zoology, Chad’s research focusses are African herpetofauna and their evolutionary and ecological structuring. In Chad’s short professional career, he has published several principal and collaborative peer-reviewed scientific papers and book chapters. Chad is also a strong advocate for reptile and amphibian awareness and regularly conducts walks, talks and presentations as well as produces numerous popular scientific outputs on the subject. He has undertaken numerous expeditions to many African countries such as Angola, Zambia and South Africa with a variety of both professional and scientific organisations.

Ninda Baptista is an Angolan biologist, holds an MSc degree in Conservation Biology from the University of Lisbon, and is currently enrolled for a PhD in Biodiversity, Genetics and Evolution in the University of Porto, addressing the diversity of Angolan amphibians. Over the last 12 years she has worked on environmental consulting, research and in-situ conservation projects in Angola, including priority areas for conservation such as Kumbira, Mount Moco and the Humpata plateau. She conducted herpetological surveys throughout the country and created a herpetological collection (Colecção Herpetológica do Lubango), currently deposited in Instituto Superior de Ciências da Educação da Huíla (ISCED – Huíla). Ninda is an author of scientific papers and book chapters on Angolan herpetology and ornithology. She also works on scientific outreach, producing magazine articles, books for children and posters about the country’s biodiversity in collaboration with Fundação Kissama.

Javier Lobón-Rovira is PhD student at Cibio, Portugal, working to unveil evolutionary pattern in southern Africa gekkonids. As Biologist he has worked in different conservation projects and groups around the globe, including reptiles and amphibians at Veragua Rainforest Foundation, Costa Rica or big mammals in Utah, USA. However, as photographer, he has collaborated with different Conservation NGOs in Africa, America and Europe and manage to publish on International Journals as National Geographic, Africa Geographic or Nature’s Best Magazine. 

Read the study:

Conradie W, Keates C, Baptista NL, Lobón-Rovira J (2022) Taxonomical review of Prosymna angolensis Boulenger, 1915 (Elapoidea, Prosymnidae) with the description of two new species. ZooKeys 1121: 97-143. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1121.85693

Follow ZooKeys on Facebook and Twitter.

Three new species of ground snakes discovered under graveyards and churches in Ecuador

The new snakes, which are small and cylindrical, were named in honor of institutions or people supporting the exploration of remote cloud forests in the tropics.

A group of scientists led by Alejandro Arteaga, grantee of The Explorers Club Discovery Expeditions and researcher at Khamai Foundation, discovered three new cryptozoic (living underground) snakes hidden under graveyards and churches in remote towns in the Andes of Ecuador. The discovery was made official in a study published in the journal ZooKeys. The new snakes, which are small, cylindrical, and rather archaic-looking, were named in honor of institutions or people supporting the exploration and conservation of remote cloud forests in the tropics.

Atractus michaelsabini was found hidden besides a church in the Andean town Guanazán, El Oro province, Ecuador. Photo by Amanda Quezada

Believe or not, graveyards are also land of the living. In the Andes of Ecuador, they are inhabited by a fossorial group of snakes belonging to the genus Atractus. These ground snakes are the most species-rich snake genus in the world (there are now 150 species known globally), but few people have seen one or even heard about their existence. This is probably because these serpents are shy and generally rare, and they remain hidden throughout most of their lives. Additionally, most of them inhabit remote cloud forests and live buried underground or in deep crevices. In this particular case, however, the new ground snakes where found living among crypts.

General view of a graveyard in Amaluza, Azuay province, Ecuador. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga

The discovery of the three new species took place rather fortuitously and in places where one would probably not expect to find these animals. The Discovery Ground Snake (Atractus discovery) was found hidden underground in a small graveyard in a remote cloud forest town in southeastern Ecuador, whereas the two other new species were found besides an old church and in a small school. All of this seems to suggest that, at least in the Andes, new species of snakes might be lurking just around the corner.

Unfortunately, the coexistence of ground snakes and villagers in the same town is generally bad news for the snakes. The study by Arteaga reports that the majority of the native habitat of the new snakes has already been destroyed. As a result of the retreating forest line, the ground snakes find themselves in the need to take refuge in spaces used by humans (both dead and alive), where they are usually killed on sight.

Atractus zgap. Photo by Alejandro Artaga.

Diego Piñán, a teacher of the town where one of the new reptiles was found, says: “when I first arrived at El Chaco in 2013, I used to see many dead snakes on the road; others where hit by machetes or with stones. Now, after years of talking about the importance of snakes, both kids and their parents, while still wary of snakes, now appreciate them and protect them.” Fortunately, Diego never threw away the dead snakes he found: he preserved them in alcohol-filled jars and these were later used by Arteaga to describe the species as new to science.

A jar full of Atractus snakes. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga

In addition to teaching about the importance of snakes, the process of naming species is important to create awareness about the existence of a new animal and its risk of extinction. In this particular case, two of the new snakes are considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future.

The discovery process also provides an opportunity to recognize and honor the work of the people and institutions fighting to protect wildlife.

Alejandro Arteaga examines the holotype of Atractus discovery. He had to examine hundreds museum specimens before confirming the new species as such. Photo by David Jácome

Atractus discovery was named to honor The Explorers Club Discovery Expedition Grants initiative, a program seeking to foster scientific understanding for the betterment of humanity and all life on Earth and beyond. The grant program supports researchers and explorers from around the world in their quest to mitigate climate change, prevent the extinction of species and cultures, and ensure the health of the Earth and its inhabitants.

Atractus zgap. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga

Atractus zgap was named in honor of the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP), a program seeking to conserve unknown but highly endangered species and their natural habitats throughout the world. The ZGAP grant program supports the fieldwork of young scientists who are eager to implement and start conservation projects in their home countries.

Atractus discovery. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga

Atractus michaelsabini was named in honor of a young nature lover, Michael Sabin, grandson of American philanthropist and conservationist Andrew “Andy” Sabin. Through the conservation organization Re:wild, the Sabin family has supported field research of threatened reptiles and has protected thousands of acres of critical habitat throughout the world.

“Naming species is at the core of biology”, says Dr. Juan M. Guayasamin, co-author of the study and a professor at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. “Not a single study is really complete if it is not attached to the name of the species, and most species that share the planet with us are not described.”

“The discovery of these new snakes is only the first step towards a much larger conservation project,” says Arteaga. “Now, thanks to the encouragement of ZGAP, we have already started the process of establishing a nature reserve to protect the ground snakes. This action would not have been possible without first unveiling the existence of these unique and cryptic reptiles, even if it meant momentarily disturbing the peace of the dead in the graveyard where the lived.”

Research article:

Arteaga A, Quezada A, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (2022) Leaving no stone unturned: three additional new species of Atractus ground snakes (Serpentes, Colubridae) from Ecuador discovered using a biogeographical approach. ZooKeys 1121: 175-210. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1121.89539

Follow ZooKeys on Twitter and Facebook.

Scientists reveal the true identity of a Chinese octopus

Locals and fishermen had long been familiar with the species, but they kept mistaking it for a different species.

As they were collecting cephalopod samples in Dongshan island in China’s Fujian Province, a team of researchers came across an interesting finding: a new-to-science species of octopus.

A live individual of Callistoctopus xiaohongxu.

Actually, locals and fishermen have long been familiar with the species -but they kept mistaking it for a juvenile form of the common long-arm octopus (‘Octopus minor), whose trade is widespread throughout the country.

Only when a team of scientists from the Ocean University of China collected a batch of specimens misidentified by locals from Dongshan Seafood Market Pier as ‘O’. minor to study them, did it become apparent that this was in fact a separate, new species. That’s how it got its own name, Callistoctopus xiaohongxu, and a scientific description published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

A live individual of Callistoctopus xiaohongxu.

The scientific name xiaohongxu is a phonetic translation of the local Chinese name of this species in Zhangzhou, where it was collected. It is a reference to its smooth skin and reddish-brown colour, which are among its most distinctive features. At less than 40 g in its adult stage, C. xiaohongxu is considered a small to moderate-sized octopus.

A net-like web structure on Callistoctopus xiaohongxu.

The researchers also note that this is the first new species of the genus Callistoctopus to be found in the China Seas.

More than 130 different cephalopod species are recorded in Chinese waters. Тhe southeast waters of China, due to the influence of strong warm currents, provide ideal environmental conditions to generate abundant marine biodiversity, and the finding of C. xiaohongxu further confirms the high diversity of species in the southeast China sea, the researchers said.

Research article:

Zheng X, Xu C, Li J (2022) Morphological description and mitochondrial DNA-based phylogenetic placement of a new species of Callistoctopus Taki, 1964 (Cephalopoda, Octopodidae) from the southeast waters of China. ZooKeys 1121: 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1121.86264

Follow ZooKeys on Twitter and Facebook.

Bay Area high school students describe two new species of scorpions with California Academy of Sciences

Identified on the community science platform iNaturalist, the species add to California’s rich biodiversity.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (August 15, 2022) — California now has two new scorpions on its list of species, thanks to the efforts of two keen-eyed high school students from the Bay Area and the California Academy of Sciences. Harper Forbes and Prakrit Jain, avid users on the community science platform iNaturalist, discovered the new-to-science scorpions while trawling the thousands of observations uploaded by other users in the state. New species Paruroctonus soda and Paruroctonus conclusus are playa scorpions, meaning they can only be found around dry lake beds, or playas, from the deserts of Central and Southern California. For scientists, conservation managers, and the growing communities of wildlife observers on platforms like iNaturalist, these newly described species provide a better understanding of California’s biodiversity and the places most in need of protection—a cornerstone of the Academy’s Thriving California initiative. The budding naturalists collaborated with Curator of Arachnology  Lauren Esposito, PhD, to formally describe the species in a study published today in ZooKeys

This female scorpion is one of the newly described species (Paruroctonus soda) and is seen carrying 51 juveniles. (© Prakrit Jain)

In 2019, Forbes and Jain came across an unknown scorpion species on iNaturalist observed near Koehn Lake—an ephemeral lake in the Mojave Desert—that had remained unidentified since it was uploaded six years earlier. 

“We weren’t entirely sure what we were looking at,” Jain says. “Over the next couple years, we studied scorpions in the genus Paruroctonus and learned they frequently evolve to live in alkali playas like Koehn Lake. When we returned to that initial observation, we realized we were looking at an undescribed Paruroctonus species.” 

Harper Forbes (left), Prakrit Jain (right), and Academy Curator of Arachnology Lauren Esposito, PhD, (center) search for scorpions. (Gayle Laird 2022 © California Academy of Sciences)

Serendipitously, another unknown scorpion observed in San Luis Obispo County was uploaded to iNaturalist shortly after their discovery in May of 2021. With a few years of arachnid research under their belts, Forbes and Jain knew right away that it was a new species in the same genus. They immediately contacted Esposito to assist, resulting in two new-to-science scorpions—P. soda and P. conclusus—and a published paper in which Forbes and Jain are first authors. 

“Harper and Prakrit went through all the steps to formally describe a species, sampling the populations and comparing them with existing specimens in our collection,” Esposito says. “There’s a lot of work involved, but they are incredibly passionate about this research. It’s inspiring to see that their hobby is one that advances biodiversity science.”

The new scorpions species were discovered on community science platform iNaturalist. (Gayle Laird 2022 © California Academy of Sciences)

P. soda and P. conclusus are both alkali sink specialists, meaning they have adapted to the alkaline basins—dry, salty playas with high pH soils—in which they evolved. Each species has a very limited range and can only be found in the playas where they were discovered: Soda Lake (the former’s namesake) and Koehn Lake. During their summer break, Forbes and Jain visited the lakes to collect specimens of each new species. After scouting the alkali flats during the daytime for habitats most suited for playa scorpions, they set out with their vials and forceps at dusk, as these desert dwellers are primarily active at night. Luckily, most scorpions fluoresce under ultraviolet light, so the researchers used blacklights to scour the open playas while keeping an eye out for their glowing subjects. They also searched the scorpions’ typical hiding places, peering into cracks in the hard clay soil and combing through common alkali sink plants like iodine bush (Allenrolfea occidentalis) and bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra). At the end of each trip, they successfully collected a sample size of both males and females sufficient for the study.

While the species range for P. soda is small (just a few square miles), it is entirely located within Carrizo Plain National Monument—federally protected land that renders this species safe from human-driven threats. Unfortunately, this is not the case for P. conclusus.

“While no official assessment has been carried out for either species, P. conclusus can only be found on a narrow strip of unprotected land, less than two kilometers long and only a few meters wide in some places,” Forbes says. “The entire species could be wiped out with the construction of a single solar farm, mine, or housing development.” 

Habitat of Paruroctonus conclusus at the type locality, taken in July 2021.

Though P. soda seems to be relatively safe compared to P. conclusus, the constant threat of climate change endangers all wildlife, particularly in delicate desert environments. As part of the Thriving California initiative, Academy scientists hope to collaborate with schools and communities throughout the state to conduct further biodiversity research. By harnessing scientific data—including crowd-sourced data from iNaturalist—and providing access to environmental and science learning, the initiative hopes to halt biodiversity loss in the Golden State. 

Harper and Prakrit will continue their research with the Academy and are currently working on a holistic book of California’s scorpions. (Gayle Laird 2022 © California Academy of Sciences)

Now high school graduates, this fall Forbes will study evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona and Jain will study integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. They will continue their work with Esposito and are currently collaborating on their next major project: a holistic book of California’s scorpions. In addition to their research and academic endeavors, they are excited to get back out in the field to find, collect, and identify more scorpions. 

“I will never get tired of going out at night to find a certain scorpion for the first time,” Jain says. “Whether it be solving the mystery of a long-lost scorpion or discovering something new in an unexpected place, a trip to the desert is always a challenge and an adventure.”

This press release was originally published by the California Academy of Sciences.

Celebrating World Lizard day with amazing discoveries

This August 14, we’re looking back to the most impressive lizard discoveries we’ve witnessed throughout the years.

World Lizard Day is a great way to raise awareness of these curious reptiles and their conservation needs; it is also a good excuse to look at pretty lizard pictures! Today, we’re doing a bit of both.

At Pensoft, we’ve published many new lizard species, some of them rare and truly fascinating. This August 14, we’re looking back to the most impressive lizard discoveries we’ve witnessed throughout the years.

The Dracula lizard

This beautiful lizard, described in 2018, comes from the Andean slopes of southwestern Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. It inhabits evergreen low montane forests, and is only known from a relatively small territory of approximately 1582 km2. Its prey most often consists of insects, spiders and worms.

Contrary to what you might think, this species was not named after the eponymous vampire count, but rather after some beautiful tropical flowers.

The specific epithet dracula refers to the Dracula Reserve, which is located within the lizard’s distribution and near its type locality. The Reserve protects an area with a high diversity of orchids of the genus Dracula.

Published in ZooKeys.

The tiny chameleon

This lizard friend, known as Brookesia tedi, is less than 3 cm long! It is more than ten times smaller than the longest known chameleon, Furcifer oustaleti. Its size makes it difficult to find, and as a result, challenging to study. Its description, published in 2019, helped resolve a 50-year old identity question.

Living at 1300 m above sea level on the Marojejy massif in northeastern Madagascar, Brookesia tedi lives is brown in colour, its tail and the back of its head grey.

The researchers consider it Vulnerable but worry that improper protection on Marojejy, as well as fires, could rapidly drive the species to becoming Critically Endangered.

Published in Zoosystematics and Evolution.

The charismatic wood lizard

Enyalioides feiruzae is a colourful and highly variable lizard – especially its males, who can have brownish turquoise, gray, or greenish brown backs traced with pale lines. Females, in turn, can be greenish brown or floury brown, with faint dark brown lines on their back, limbs and tail, and spots on the sides. The team behind its discovery spent seven years in the area searching for amphibians and reptiles before describing it.

The species comes from the Tropical Andes, and more specifically – from the Huallaga River basin, an area which is still poorly studied because for a long time it was disturbed by civil wars.

The Feiruz wood lizard was named after another reptile, Feiruz the iguana – “muse and lifelong friend”.

The spotted monitor lizard

Mussau is a small island in northeastern Papua New Guinea. The top predator on it? A lizard.

Varanus semotus has been isolated from related species for an estimated one to two million years, with its closest relatives several hundred kilometers away.

Even so, science discovered it only recently.

The one-meter-long lizard has a black body with yellow and orange markings and a pale yellow tongue, with a turquoise to blue tail. These animals “will eat just about anything they can catch and kill,” study author Valter Weijola told the Washington Post.

As the only large terrestrial generalist predator and scavenger on the island, Varanus semotus may fill an important ecological function, making it of particular conservation concern.

Published in ZooKeys.

The black iguana

What makes Iguana melanoderma so distinct is its black color; in fact, it only gets blacker with age. The species was discovered in Saba and Montserrat islands, the Lesser Antilles (Eastern Caribbean), to which it is endemic.

However, it is threatened by unsustainable harvesting (including pet trade), and competition and hybridization from invasive alien iguanas from South and Central America.

A greater focus on biosecurity, the minimization of hunting, and habitat conservation, would help its conservation, the researchers write in their paper.

In Saba, Iguana melanoderma lives on cliffs, in trees and bushes, in shrublands, and deciduous woodlands. It lives in a foggy and cool environment up to about 500 m a.s.l. and sunbathes as soon as the sun rises.

Published in ZooKeys.

Bonus: Illegal lizard trade might be closer than you think

Dubbed “miniature Godzilla” and “the Holy Grail of Herpetology,” the earless monitor lizard is endemic to Borneo. Legally, it can neither be traded within Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, nor exported out of them.

Even so, reptile enthusiasts and unscrupulous traders have long been smuggling small numbers of earless monitor lizards, eventually bringing them to Europe.

A new study reported that accredited zoos have acquired individuals of the protected lizard, without any evidence of legal export.

“Zoos that continue to obtain animals that have been illegally acquired, directly or indirectly, are often fuelling the illegal wildlife trade, supporting organised crime networks and possibly contributing to the decline in some species,” Vincent Nijman, author of the study, told us.

Published in Nature Conservation.

“Oscar describes Oscar”: Interview with Oscar Lasso-Alcalá, Pt 3

“This is why Mikolji’s Oscar is a highly appreciated species in the aquarium hobby. It is more than just a fish in an aquarium when it is considered a true pet.”

In this last part, we talked with ichthyologist Oscar Miguel Lasso-Alcalá about what makes Astronotus mikoljii – a new to science cichlid species that he recently described in ZooKeys – so special.

Find Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview.

What makes this species so charismatic and loved by aquarists and ichthyologists?

I already spoke about my experience as an aquarist from an early age, where the qualities of the species of the Astronotus genus, known as Oscars are highlighted.

Different varieties and color patterns have been obtained from them through selective breeding, or genetic manipulation, which are called living modified organisms (LMOs) or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

However, the true lovers of nature, the aquarians of the “Biotope Aquarium” movement  and the like, prefer pure specimens to manipulated or artificially modified ones. This is why Mikolji’s Oscar is a highly appreciated species in the aquarium hobby. It is more than just a fish in an aquarium since it is considered a true pet.

For ichthyologists, it is remarkably interesting and at the same time very challenging to study a genus like Astronotus, which already has only three described species (Astronotus ocellatus, A. cassiprinnis and A. mikoljii).

This is an unusual situation, which, as we have reported, requires an integrative approach and the work and experience of different specialists for its study. With all certainty, as in the case of Mikolji’s Oscar, other species of the genus Astronotus remain to be studied and described, and we hope that we will have the fortune to participate with our experience in these new works.

Local people have long known this species. What role does it have in their lives?

It is important to clarify that Astronotus mikoljii is a new species for science, but it is not a “new species” for people who already knew it locally under the name of Pavona, Vieja, or Cupaneca in Venezuela or Pavo Real, Carabazú, Mojarra and Mojarra Negra in Colombia. Nor for the aquarium trade, where it was known by the common name of Oscar and scientific name of Astronotus ocellatus, or, to a lesser degree, as Astronotus cassiprinnis.

This species has been of great food importance for thousands of years for at least nine indigenous ethnic groups.

Much less is it a new species for the nine thousand-year-old indigenous ethnic groups that share their world with the habitat of this fish, who baptized it with some 14 different names, known in their languages as mijsho (Kariña), boisikuajaba (Warao), hácho (Pumé = Yaruro), phadeewa, jadaewa (Ye’Kuana = Makiritare), perewa, parawa (Eñepá = Panare), yawirra (Kúrrim = Kurripako), kohukohurimï, kohokohorimï, owënawë kohoromï” (Yanomami = Yanomamï), eba (Puinave), Itapukunda (Kurripako), uan (Tucano).

Hence, the importance of scientific names, since the same species can have multiple common names, in the same language or in multiple languages.

It is important to note that very few studies that describe new species for science include the common names of the species, as given by the indigenous ethnic groups or natives of the regions, where the species live.

This species has been of great food importance for thousands of years for at least nine indigenous ethnic groups, and for more than 500 years to the hundreds of human communities of locals who inhabit the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and Colombia. In our studies, in the plains of Orinoco from 30 years ago, we were able to verify its consumption, as well as high gastronomic value, due to its pleasant taste and enhanced texture.

However, due to my imprint as an aquarist, I have not wanted to consume it on the different occasions that it was offered to me, because it is very difficult to eat the beloved pets that we had in our childhood.

Why is this fish important to people and to ecosystems?

It is especially important to highlight that the Astronotus mikoljii species plays a very important role in the ecosystem, due to its biological and ecological background.

Although it can feed from different sources, it is a fundamentally carnivorous species, and therefore, it “controls” other species in the ecosystem.

Without Mikolji’s Oscar, the aquatic ecosystem would lose one of its fundamental links and the delicate balance of its functioning, because the species it feeds on could increase their populations uncontrollably, becoming veritable pests. This would put in great danger the entire future of the aquatic ecosystem of the Orinoco River basin and the permanence of other species of ecological importance.

In addition, it would surely affect other species used by man, both those of commercial importance (sold as food or as ornamental species), and for the subsistence fishing of native and indigenous inhabitants.

Mikolji’s Oscar, although a carnivorous species, also has its natural predators, for example piranhas and other predatory fish. For this reason, it evolved with an ocellus, or false eye, at the base of the caudal fin, to confuse its predators and guarantee its survival. Obviously, this species will be compromised if we don’t learn about it, use its populations wisely and preserve it in the long term.

***

Photos by Ivan Mikolji.

***

You can find Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview with Oscar.

***

Follow the ZooKeys journal on Twitter and Facebook.

“Oscar describes Oscar”: Interview with Oscar Lasso-Alcalá, Pt 2

“Working in science in a country under these conditions, and getting to publish the results of the investigations in high-level scientific journals such as ZooKeys, is an act of “true heroism”.

Oscar Miguel Lasso-Alcalá, MSc. is a Spanish-Venezuelan ichthyologist. This summer, his team described a new species of Oscar fish in the journal ZooKeys.

In this second part of his interview, he tells us about the challenges in his work and shares the story behind the new cichlid’s name. You can find Part 1 of the interview.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge?

Throughout the past seven years, the description of this species has been a real challenge. Our group of researchers knew from the beginning that it was going to be a difficult job.  However, we never imagined the magnitude of the problems or challenges we would encounter.

We had to study the specimens from the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and Colombia, and rivers from the hydrographic basin of the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela, which were within our reach, in the main scientific collections of fishes in Venezuela. Similarly, we studied the specimens from the Amazon River basin in one of the main collections in Brazil. We studied the traditional external morphology (morphometric characters, or the body, and meristic measurements, or the number of structures or parts such as scales, fins, etc.) and their coloration, as well as their internal morphology, that is, the study of structures of their skeleton, with the use of high-definition radiographs, where we found the main differences with other species.

A novel technique was the study of the shape of the otoliths, or “ear stones”, a technique not used before in the study of this group of fish. That is why I mentioned before that we also made some great scientific discoveries.

In addition to the long and meticulous laboratory work, we also had to conduct field work, not only to capture new specimens for the morphological study, but also for the genetic and molecular study, a new methodology that has become popular in recent years as a way to support taxonomy and systematics in the description and classification of species.

For this latest work, we also relied on a recent study in this area of ​​research, carried out by the genetics specialists on our work team. This means our research was based on what is currently called “integrative taxonomy”, which is the sum of different techniques, methods, and technologies, at the service of achieving our goal: the description of a new species for science and for the world.

Many other difficulties came up along the way, which is why this research took over seven years to be published. Normally, researchers cannot focus 100% of their time on one single research, and workloads fluctuate. Sometimes we think that a greater number of specialists would help distribute the workload evenly or that getting input from others with different fields of experience, sometimes specialized, would help enrich the work, but that also makes it more difficult to reach agreement. Reaching perfection is never possible, and it took a long time for us to reach a level of results that was both acceptable to all and well accepted in the field of taxonomy and systematics.

One of the biggest challenges was purely financial. While we had some funds from Brazilian research support organizations and two universities, this was not the case in Venezuela, a country plunged in a serious political, social, economic, and humanitarian crisis.

Working in science in a country under these conditions, and being able to publish your results in high-level scientific journals, including ZooKeys, is an act of “true heroism”, as my brother José Antonio often says when cheering on my publication.

How come you named it after Ivan Mikolji?

People who do not know about the great work carried out by river explorer Ivan Mikolji might wonder about that, but the thousands of people, connoisseurs and followers of his work are absolutely clear on the justification for this appointment.

Find more about Ivan Mikolji and his work on his website: https://mikolji.com/.

In addition to being an excellent professional explorer, author, underwater photographer, audiovisual producer and even plastic artist, he is a tireless and enthusiastic disseminator of the biodiversity and natural history of freshwater fish in Venezuela and Colombia.

His work has contributed greatly to the knowledge and conservation of the aquatic ecosystems of both countries. His motto is: “You cannot preserve something that you don’t know exists.”

He has made dozens of photography and art exhibitions in Venezuela, Mexico and the United States, as well as award-winning documentaries on the Orinoco River and its biodiversity that have acquired millions of views.

Mikolji has also inspired thousands of “conservationist” aquarists, as a judge in a worldwide movement called “Biotope Aquariums,” where people try to simulate, as much as possible, the ecosystems and aquatic biodiversity of their places of origin, for the conservation of their local biodiversity.

In addition, his educational work further includes the “Wild Aquarium”, a new movement and methodology, where he recreates in the same place (in situ), a “Biotope aquarium”, helping local communities (children and adults) learn about local aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity and their conservation.

In addition to his great artistic, informative, and educational work, with the enormous data accumulated in more than 15 years of work and field observations, in the recent years, he has participated in different research projects, publishing books and numerous scientific articles, some of them with us. For this reason, in 2020, he was appointed Associate Researcher of the Museo de Historia Natural La Salle (Caracas) of the Fundación La Salle de Ciencias Naturales, in Venezuela. By the way, we are planning research that we hope to announce soon in various publications.

Regarding Astronotus mikoljii, our good friend and now colleague Ivan Mikolji, was the one who initially proposed that we describe this species that he loves so much. He selflessly supported all the authors throughout the study in diverse ways, even in the field work in Venezuela. Ivan helped us in the search for equipment and materials, in the search for information, in the photographic work, and now in the dissemination of this study. For this reason, the article, in just one week, achieved more than 4,500 downloads, both on ZooKeys and ResearchGate web platforms, a true record for a study of this type.

Most importantly, throughout these years, Ivan has always encouraged us not to lose our course and objective, even in the most difficult moments. After years of knowing him, we have cultivated an excellent friendship. This is why we decided that it was just and necessary to recognize his work, help, companionship, and friendship, naming this beautiful and beloved species in his honor.

Photos by Ivan Mikolji.

***

You can find Part 1 and continue reading with Part 3.

***

Follow the ZooKeys journal on Twitter and Facebook.

“Oscar describes Oscar”: Interview with Oscar Lasso-Alcalá, Pt 1

“As an ichthyologist, I feel pride in collaborating and contributing to science, nationally, regionally, and globally.”

Oscar Miguel Lasso-Alcalá, MSc., is a Spanish-Venezuelan ichthyologist with undergraduate studies in Oceanography, Fishing Technology and Aquaculture, and Postgraduate studies in Agricultural Zoology and Estuary Ecology. He has worked in diverse areas such as taxonomy, biology, ecology, freshwater, estuarine, and marine fisheries and management. For 33 years, he has participated in more than 70 research projects and published over 250 studies. He has made more than 250 scientific expeditions to different regions of Venezuela and six other countries in America. He has dedicated much of his work to studying, educating, and managing introduced species and their invasions.

This summer, Oscar’s team described a new species of cichlid fish from northern South America in our journal ZooKeys. We spoke to him to find out how they came to the discovery and what it means to him.

When did you discover the new species?

Although some taxonomists have specimens that they believe, or have preliminarily diagnosed, to correspond to different, undescribed or new-to-science species (in my case I know of around 15 species I’ve diagnosed as new), Astronotus mikoljii was different. We did not discover that it was a new species overnight.

Normally, the process of discovering a new species takes a long time and a lot of work. It is not an easy task. First, you need to analyze the external and internal morphology. You study the color pattern and other characteristics and compare them to those of known, described species that are akin or similar to the one being studied, looking for the main differences. It is also very important to carry out exhaustive documentary and bibliographical research, to learn about all related species that have been previously described. Then, if there is complete certainty that it’s a different species that has not been previously described and published, there’s an entire process of formal description of the new species.

Did you immediately recognize it as a new species?

Absolutely not. Mikolji’s Oscar is difficult to differentiate externally. The first researcher who evidenced the main differences of Astronotus ocellatus (a binomial as it was previously known) from the Orinoco River basin, was the Swedish ichthyologist Sven Oscar Kullander, curator at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. He is one of the greatest specialists in the world on species of the Cichlidae family, to which the species we were studying belongs. This was first published in 1981, followed by his 1983, 1986, and 1989 studies (including his Ph.D. thesis) and later in other studies of his published in 2003 (all cited in our recent article published in the ZooKeys journal).

Likewise, my brother, the Spanish and Venezuelan ichthyologist Carlos Andrés Lasso, currently a researcher at the Instituto de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt of Colombia, with more than 40 years of experience, also recognized this species from the Orinoco River as different from the one present in the Amazon River basin. In 18 different studies carried out in Venezuela and Colombia (all cited in our article), he records this species as Astronotus cf ocellatus (“cf” means the species name is yet to be confirmed), or directly as Astronotus sp., already assuring that it was a different species and new to science.

We are letting the world know a defined and individual species exists.

With this background, we responsibly acknowledge that it was Sven and Carlos who discovered Mikolji’s Oscar, and not us. Our credit and recognition are given for the process of describing the new species and for its publication. It is very important to clarify here that the discovery of a new-to-science species and its description (and publication) are two different facts, situations, and processes. However, in our study, we discovered some very important morphological characteristics, as well as genetic information, that allowed the differentiation of this species from those already known.

What was most exciting about this finding?

 As an ichthyologist, I feel pride in collaborating and contributing to science, nationally, regionally, and globally. I feel satisfaction every time I share my research results at a scientific event or meeting (congress, symposium), or publish them in a scientific book (or part of it) or in a popular journal. This is not just an ordinary job for me, since I really like to investigate, and almost always have a lot of fun with this activity. As I have said in many of the interviews that I have had throughout my over 30-year career: to me, it’s not a job, it’s a way of living.

It fills me with great satisfaction to have the opportunity, more than 40 years after first meeting these Oscars, to be able to study them, describe them, and give them the name and place they deserve in science, and in the world.

The description of a species which is new to science is something really special, not only for me and my colleagues in this study, but for the vast majority of taxonomists. This is not only due to the fact that our last names will always appear next to the scientific name, but also to the fact that we are letting the world know a defined and individual species exists. By adding another species, we increase the known biodiversity of a country, a region, and the world, and therefore, we demonstrate that biodiversity must be studied, managed, conserved, and used rationally and independently.

Astronotus mikoljii is a very charismatic species, highly appreciated, valued, and loved in the aquarium hobby.

I remember that as a kid (between 7 and 13 years old), in the aquariums built at home by two of my older brothers, José Antonio and Carlos, to whom I largely owe being an ichthyologist today, we had some specimens of Oscars from Orinoco. We bought them in a local aquarium store in Caracas and took care of them, loved them like little children. I remember that in addition to feeling happily identified with the name (Oscar), they felt like real pets. They “got excited” when they saw us, took food directly from our hands without biting our fingers, and even let themselves be caressed, as if they were docile puppies or kittens. They were my favorite fish.

Years later, as an adult, beginning my research years, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, even with aquariums in our house (I had more than 20 in my good time as an aquarist), we had new specimens of these Oscars. This time, they were specimens captured by my brother and me, in the floodplains of the Orinoco River (Llanos de Apure), where for more than five years we studied the biology and ecology of some 200 local fish species, many of them unique in the world just like Mikolji’s Oscar. From that field study came the doctoral thesis of my brother Carlos, and the undergraduate theses of half a dozen other researchers, including mine.

It fills me with great satisfaction to have the opportunity, more than 40 years after first meeting these Oscars, to be able to study them, describe them, and give them the name and place they deserve in science, and in the world. It also fills me with deep satisfaction, having the opportunity to describe a “large-sized” species that was apparently already known, both locally and nationally (for its importance in fishing), as well as internationally in the world of aquarism. That is why, as I shared our study and finding on social media, I wrote: “Oscar describes the Oscar: Mikolji’s Oscar.

We are also extremely grateful to the many people who helped us and collaborated with us in this study, by collecting new specimens in the field, reviewing fish collections under their care, taking X-rays, searching for specialized bibliographies, studying the native or indigenous names, and even editing and publishing the article in Zookeys journal.

Likewise, it was exciting to share this research experience with colleagues from Brazil (co-authors of this study, just like me), who trusted us and our meticulous work.

Photos by Ivan Mikolji

The story continues with Part 2 and Part 3.

***

Follow the ZooKeys journal on Twitter and Facebook.

Venomous! New pit viper discovered in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, China

The discovery was published in the open-access journal ZooKeys as part of a new molecular phylogenetic analysis of the Asian pit vipers.

Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site, lies in the transition zone from the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Sichuan Basin in Sichuan Province, China, and occupies an area of 651 km2. The reserve is covered with well-preserved original forests, and numerous alpine lakes. Beautiful and picturesque, it is home to some rare animals, such as the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and Golden Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).

Landscape in Jiuzhaigou National Park. Photo by Jie Du

The herpetological di­versity, in contrast to the mammals, is relatively low in the area due to the harsh alpine environment. To find out more about it, and to investigate the post-earthquake ecological system in the region, a group of researchers conducted a series of investigations in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve. During their herpetological surveys, they collected some specimens of Gloydius, a genus of venomous pit vipers endemic to Asia, from Zharu Valley.

After running morphological and phylogenetic analyses, the scientists found out that these specimens in fact belonged to a yet-to-be-described species.

Holotype of Gloydius lateralis. Photo by Sheng-chao Shi.

“The new species is morphologically similar, and phylogenetically closely related to G. swild, another recently described species from Heishui, Aba, Sichuan, but differs from it by having larger eyes (related to the head) and a continuous regular brown stripe on each dorsolateral side of the body,” explained the corresponding author, Dr Jingsong Shi.

“Thus, we named it after its unique color pattern: Gloydius lateralis.”

Holotype of Gloydius lateralis. Photo by Sheng-chao Shi

The newly described snake feeds on small mammals, such as mice, and “is active on sunny days by the roadside in a hot, dry valley”, the researchers write in their study, which was published in the open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.

“The discovery of G. lateralis provides new insights into the diversity and the distribution patterns of Asian pit vipers”, they write, suggesting that the formation of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau might be one of the key factors to the geographical isolation of the alpine pit vipers in southwest China.

Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, where G. lateralis was found, receives millions of tourists every year. “The only known habitat of the new species is Zharu Valley, and it is now under touristic development,” the researchers point out. “Thus, warning signs are still needed to remind visitors to watch out for the venomous pit viper, since this and another pit viper species, Protobothrops jerdo­nii, are often found in grass or bushes on both sides of roads.”

Snakes’ thermoregulation needs make them more prone to vehicle collisions, which is why the research team highlights the necessity to remind drivers to slow down in order to avoid road killings.

Original source:

Zhang M-H, Shi S-C, Li C, Yan P, Wang P, Ding L, Du J, Plenković-Moraj A, Jiang J-P, Shi J-S (2022) Exploring cryptic biodiversity in a world heritage site: a new pitviper (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae) from Jiuzhaigou, Aba, Sichuan, China. ZooKeys 1114: 59–76. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1114.79709

Top new species discoveries for the first half of 2022

The diversity is impressive, but what is even more amazing is how much more remains undiscovered.

In the world of biodiversity science, 2022 started with some great discoveries and a lot of hope. Here at Pensoft, we get to see a new species (or more!) make an appearance into the scientific world almost every day. The diversity is impressive, but what is even more amazing is how much more remains undiscovered.

With the first half of the year already behind us, here are the stellar new species that took the world by storm as soon as we published them.

The magical fairy wrasse

This rainbow-coloured fish is called Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa, or Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse, and it was found in the Maldives’ reefs. It can live 160 to 500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface in unexplored coral ecosystems dubbed “the twilight zone”. 

It was discovered within California Academy of SciencesHope for Reefs initiative, which is aimed at better understanding and protecting coral reefs around the world.

“Nobody knows these waters better than the Maldivian people,” says senior author and Academy Curator of Ichthyology Luiz Rocha. “Our research is stronger when it’s done in collaboration with local researchers and divers.”

Apart from its striking appearance, Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa also gained popularity as the first new-to-science species to be described by a Maldivian scientist.

“It has always been foreign scientists who have described species found in the Maldives, even those that are endemic, without much involvement from local scientists, says study co-author and Maldives Marine Research Institute biologist Ahmed Najeeb. “This time it is different.”

It is also one of the first species to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language, ‘finifenmaa’ meaning ‘rose’, a nod to both its pink hues and the island nation’s national flower.

This beautiful fish is already being exploited through the aquarium hobbyist trade, a fact described as “unsettling” by the people who discovered it.

Published in ZooKeys.

The Taylor Swift millipede

How often is it that a millipede makes top news headlines? Well, Nannaria swiftae sure did.

Scientists Derek Hennen, Jackson Means, and Paul Marek, at Virginia Tech, U.S., described the new species in April, naming it after singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. “Her music helped me get through the highs and lows of graduate school, so naming a new millipede species after her is my way of saying thanks,” Derek Hennen says, admitting he has been her fan for years.

N. swiftae joins 16 other new species of twisted-claw millipedes described from the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. To find them, researchers traveled to 17 US states, checking under leaf litter, rocks, and logs. They then sequenced the DNA of the species they found and described them scientifically. They looked at over 1800 specimens collected on their field study or taken from university and museum collections!

These little-known invertebrates are somewhat tricky to catch, because they tend to remain buried in the soil, sometimes staying completely beneath the surface.

Most twisted-claw millipedes live on the forest floor, where they feed on decaying leaves and other plant matter. They also have a valuable role as decomposers: breaking down leaf litter, they release their nutrients into the ecosystem.

Published in ZooKeys.

The Greta Thunberg frog

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has been namesakes with a frog for half a year now. In 2018, Rainforest Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting an auction offering naming rights for some new-to-science species, including Pristimantis gretathunbergae, a black-eyed rainfrog from in eastern Panama.

The undisclosed auction winner wanted to name the frog in honor of Thunberg and her work in highlighting the urgency in preventing climate change. She has impressed global leaders and her work is drawing others to action for the climate.

The international team that discovered the new rainfrog was led by Abel Batista, Ph.D. (Panama) and Konrad Mebert, Ph.D. (Switzerland). They found the frog on Mount Chucanti, a sky island surrounded by lowland tropical rainforest in eastern Panama. Reaching its habitat in the cloud forest required access via horseback through muddy trails, hiking up steep slopes, by-passing two helicopters that crashed decades ago, and camping above 1000 m elevation.

Unfortunately, the frog’s remaining habitat is severely fragmented and highly threatened by rapid deforestation for plantations and cattle pasture. Rising temperatures are another threat as they could destroy its small mountain habitat. The Mount Chucanti region already has lost more than 30% of its forest cover over the past 10 years, and the scientists insist that conservation of the remaining habitat is critical to ensure the survival of the frog.

Published in ZooKeys.

The chocolate frog

Since we’re on the subject of frogs, how about one that almost looks like it’s not real?

Instantly gaining popularity as Chocolate Frog, Synapturanus danta is a curious little frog that was recently discovered in the Peruvian Amazon. Local people had long known about this tiny, burrowing frog with a long snout; one local name for it is rana danta, “tapir frog”, for its resemblance to the large-nosed Amazonian mammal.

“These frogs are really hard to find, and that leads to them being understudied,” says Michelle Thompson, a researcher in the Keller Science Action Center at Chicago’s Field Museum and one of the authors of the study describing the frog. “It’s an example of the Amazon’s hidden diversity, and it’s important to document it to understand how important the ecosystem functions.”

While the frogs are hard to see, they’re not hard to hear. “We just kept hearing this beep-beep-beep coming from underground, and we suspected it could be a new species of burrowing frog,” says Thompson. “But how do we get to it?”

Local guides who were familiar with the frogs led the researchers to peatland areas– wetlands carpeted with nutrient-rich turf made of decaying plant matter. “After 15 to 20 minutes of digging and looking for them, I heard Michelle screaming, and to me that could only mean that she and David had found the first adult,” says Germán Chávez, a researcher at Peru’s Instituto Peruano de Herpetología and the study’s first author.

The researchers used the physical specimens of the frogs, along with the recordings of their calls and an analysis of the frogs’ DNA, to confirm that they were a new species. They named them Synapturanus danta – Synapturanus is the name of the genus they belong to, and danta is the local word for “tapir.”

Published in Evolutionary Systematics.

The fabulous flaming-red snake

This magnificent non-venomous snake, previously unknown to science, was discovered in Paraguay. It belongs to the genus Phalotris, a group of snakes from central South America noted for their striking coloration with red, black, and yellow patterns.

Jean-Paul Brouard, one of the involved researchers, came across an individual of the new species by chance while digging a hole at Rancho Laguna Blanca in 2014. Together with his colleagues Paul Smith and Pier Cacciali, he described the discovery, naming the new snake Phalotris shawnella.

The species name recognizes two children – Shawn Ariel Smith Fernández and Ella Bethany Atkinson – who were born in the same year as the Fundación Para La Tierra (2008). They inspired the founders of the NGO to work for the conservation of Paraguayan wildlife, in the hope that their children can inherit a better world.

This new Phalotris snake is particularly attractive and can be distinguished from other related species in its genus by its red head in combination with a yellow collar, a black lateral band and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots.

Only known from three individuals, this species is endemic to the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in east Paraguay. Its extreme rarity led the authors to consider it as “Endangered”, according to the conservation categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means it is in imminent danger of extinction in the absence of measures for its protection.

Published in Zoosystematics and Evolution.